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Low interview october 1998

Low are a moody minimalist band with pretty songs that could make you cry.  I guess they were secretly always destined to become a QRD band, after all, they did an interview for Whirlpool four years ago & they toured with the Swans... the interview was coducted by mail & cassette.

QRD – what is the coolest category/label you've had put on you, what's the cheesiest & what do you feel is the most appropriate?

Mimi – I guess Mike Watts saying we were punk, that's the coolest.

Alan – what's the cheesiest? slow-core.  I hate that word.  the most appropriate is anything that uses the word minimal in it, but I don't think anybody's made one up for that.

QRD – what's going on with you as far as record labels, are you still dealing with Vernon Yard?

Alan – no, we have not been doing stuff on Vernon Yard for two or three years now.  our last EP came out on Kranky & we're going to record in november an LP for Kranky that should come out in march.

QRD – is there a reason why you choose not to print your lyrics?

Alan – there wasn't at first & since then people keep asking us about printing lyrics & I guess sometimes we consider it & sometimes we don't.

Mimi – we haven't really thought about it too much.  it's not like we're doing it to offend anybody or throw anybody off.

Alan – especially people from europe want to read our lyrics because they want to understand what we're saying, but sometimes I just picture them there reading, "hey, hey, momma, say the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove."  I don't know, sometimes there's just something lost in lyrics being written down.  we may put the lyrics on the next record, but only because everybody from france keeps asking.

QRD – is "Over the Ocean" meant to be physically or emotionally over the ocean?

Alan – yes.

QRD – what's your favorite Swans song?  what one would you cover for a tribute?

Alan – I like a bunch of their stuff.  they have a new song "I Am the Sun" & that's a good one.  but the old stuff I guess was the first things I heard.  I think "Failure" is absolutely a classic, one of the greatest lyrical songs ever written.  I don't know, a lot of old stuff like "Blackout" & "Red Sheet" & all that stuff.  the really brutal stuff I think is really great too & I think any of those would be pretty great.  "Mother, My Body Disgusts Me" is a good one too.

QRD – why did you record Songs for a Dead Pilot at home?  do you feel it compromised it in anyway?

Alan – it's a combination of two things. we didn't have very much of a recording budget & it would've been really hard to go into a studio because we would've only been able to be there for like a day or two with the money that was available.  plus we were starting to be interested in learning how to record & we had done some stuff on a four track & stuff. but once you've done a few records, everybody's always curious about how to do it themselves.  so that's why we decided to do it at home.  do I feel it compromised it in anyway?  I don't know, do you?  I think it sounds like an eight track recording for sure, but I think the experience kind of enhanced it a little bit.  we were able to kind of work at our own pace with it.  if we started & a couple hours in realized that things weren't working that day we could just call it a day & come back.  & we always had the freedom of doing a song & if we felt like it didn't work out we didn't feel like we'd wasted tons of money & time doing it.  so we did a bunch of stuff & ended up just using what we thought worked the best.  plus being eight tracks it kind of forces you to be economical as far as how you record things & thinking about things as far as how can we get this song together with only so many pieces.  what did you think about Songs for a Dead Pilot?  how'd you like it?

Mimi – I liked it just fine.

Alan – yeah, but describe the experience of recording it.

Mimi – you already did.  it was nice because it was in the basement & we could come up & get a glass of water or juice whenever we wanted.

Alan – yeah, that was cool.

Mimi – we could take breaks whenever we wanted.

QRD – how old were you when you first found out about zombies?  what did you think of them then & what do you think of them now?

Alan – I remember having a little paperback book, I think it was called Movie Monsters or something, & there were pictures in there from Dr. Something on the Island of Zombies or something like that.  I kinda remember looking at that & getting pretty scared.  I figured anybody who was dead & had come back to life probably wasn't someone to mess with.  how old was I? I suppose ten.

Mimi – I don't know, but I think it was an episode of Super Friends.  the Legion of Doom had all these zombies that were out to get the Super Friends.  & I didn't like them because I liked the Super Friends myself.

Alan – who didn't?

Mimi – I know.  & what do I think about them now?  I still don't like them.

Alan – zombies are stupid.

Mimi – if they would unite for a common good maybe, but they're just about killing & they can't talk & always hold there arms out straight ahead of them & what's the point of that?

Alan – yeah, I mean if you can't talk, you can't organize.  so all they're going to do is run around like Night of the Living Dead & Return of the Living Dead, that was a great movie with TSOL & Cramps & stuff like that on the soundtrack.

Mimi – that was good, don't we have that soundtrack?

Alan – we have that soundtrack.

Mimi – we should be playing that in the background.  I guess we should've read the questions first.

QRD – what's the best record to listen to after someone's just broken up with you?

Alan – boy, I don't know, that's a tuffy.  we haven't broken up in a long time.  I'd say the last time I broke up with someone was probably back in 1982 or 1983 & I think I was probably listening to what's that Tears for Fears song?

Mimi – "Shout?"

Alan – "shout, shout, let it all out, these are the things I can do without, come on."  which comes back to the whole thing about not writing lyrics.  what about you?  what's a good break up song?

Mimi – well, of course there's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" where Neil Sedakka tells you all about it.  you can't re-live what you just did.

Alan – it's hard to do.

QRD – why did you do the remix record & are you pleased with the results?

Alan – well, we didn't do the remix record actually.  that was entirely Vernon Yard's idea.

Mimi – who we haven't been affiliated with in over two years.

Alan – well they had an idea to do a remix record & we'd been dropped by them so we were kind of like, "yeah, whatever."  cause we'd just been dropped & it's kind of like breaking up with someone & then that person coming to you & saying, "I know we're broken up & all, but remember those pictures of you I took in the park that one day?  well, I'm gonna use it for an art exhibit."  & you're kind of like, "whatever, just, you know, whatever."  so you're kind of a part of it, but kind of not part of it.  it's interesting.  I think there's some interesting stuff on there & I think there're some great artists on there or whatever, but it's just so distanced from us & we didn't really have as much say in it as people perceive that we do.  it's kind of weird because it says "Low" on it & it's probably the least involved thing we've ever been involved with it.  pleased isn't necessarily the answer.  it's okay, but I have nothing against anybody who's on there.  I think it would've been different if it was totally up to us.

QRD – are you ever tempted to rock out?

Alan – sure.  sometimes we kind of let that out whether it's volume or whatever.  we acknowledge a big part of this band is being in control & being very quiet & trying to delve into things that do not rock out.

Mimi – I don't know, do people who rock out ever feel like they need to slow down & be quiet?

Alan – The Ramones did "Be True to Your School" or something, some ballad.

Mimi – if you think back to the eighties with all those metal bands.  whenever they did a rock ballad it was inevitably the prom song of that year & the big radio hit.  & that's what we're looking for.

Alan – yeah, why not have a band that's all prom songs?

Mimi – the odds if you're doing all slow songs like that, the odds just have got to be huge that you'll have a radio hit & a prom song.

Alan – yeah, you never heard the rocking out Cinderella, you always heard, "nobody's fool, nobody's fool, no fool."  & that's a great song, but you know.  like Bon Jovi "Wanted Dead or Alive" is a slow song.  so we're a little flabbergasted at the fact that we're not all over Mtv & played at every prom.

Mimi – that we're not on light rock stations throughout america.

Alan – so maybe we should rock out & then people would take us seriously.

Mimi – then they would take notice of our slow songs.

QRD – do you have a problem that in clubs your music comes across as quiet & not as overwhelming as it could be?

Alan – oh yeah.  we knew from the beginning that if we played clubs it would possibly be very frustrating to some people because they're more used to something that rocks.  usually if we can help it we'll try to make sure that we're mixed fairly loud so that even though we're quiet & slow, at least you can hear us.  if we're mixed so quiet that you can't hear us, it's a lot easier for people to ignore us.  it depends, because if people are not into this kind of stuff, there is no way we're gonna convince them to listen.  if you came to listen then you'll listen & anything we do as far as trying to attract attention isn't going to necessarily change things in the long run.

QRD – do you have trouble living the life you want to live while spending so much time on the road?

Alan – being in a band kind of opens up some things.  like when we're at home we don't have to work quite as much.  because when we're on the road we're obviously working real hard & when we're at home it kind of lets up & we have the freedom to do some things that we enjoy doing, but someone who had a nine to five five days a week kind of job would not be able to do.  are you having trouble living the life you want to live?

Mimi – I don't know.  touring is a time when it's hard to do anything else.  you think "at home I have this I could do or that."  but obviously you're confined to the van & clubs & what not.  yeah, you can get out & walk a little bit & you can read a lot.  I read four books this last tour.  it almost feels like your life is on hold for that amount of time.  especially for us because when we're at home we've got family here & I've got a sister & she's got a little baby & you think "gee, I'm missing the things he's doing."  touring is fine & I guess it does accomplish something because it brings your music to people that would otherwise not hear it.  but I guess basically life is at home for me.

Alan – yeah, it doesn't seem like on tour time goes forward & that you're living life as much as "oh, I have to stop life for a little bit & go do this touring stuff."  I mean, we like touring & it is a big part of what we do, but it is really a surreal existence because you're not really at home & you're not really gone doing this specific thing from day to day.  there's no timeline of I'll go & do this thing & then I come home.  it's more like you're gone & for a while you live this whole other life & then you return & pick up where you left off on the day you left.  which is kind of weird.

QRD – is there anything you feel people should be particularly aware of?

Alan – they should be aware of danger.  they should be aware of their own weaknesses & their things that they need to be working on.  they need to be aware of the fact that everything they do effects others.

Mimi – I can't think of anything.

Alan – you can't think of anything that anybody should be aware of?

Mimi – we're not terribly political & we have no platform & no agendas.

Alan – I think he might have meant about the band.  things people should be aware of about the band.  no, nothing that's not already obvious.

Mimi – don't believe everything you read.

Alan – especially on that silly computer.

Mimi – half-truths.

Alan – I hear that people are not totally truthful.

QRD – what bands & music if any do you think people should listen to or respect more?

Alan – that's a good question, better than saying, "what's your favorite bands?"  I think it's pretty commonly known that the Beatles were a great influence on pop music & they really did shape the way music was approached.  I don't want to sound too music geeky or whatever, but there's stuff like the Beach Boys that are really great, especially Pet Sounds which is a colossal record that you can listen to a million times & still hear new things in it that you wouldn't have thought otherwise.

Mimi – people can listen to whatever they want.

Alan – there's validity in just about everything out there I guess.

Mimi – don't eat it up because you hear it on the radio or that type of thing, think about it.

Alan – yeah, there're very few things on the radio that have any validity to them.  at least on popular alternative radio.

Mimi – they have validity, but they're not the end all get all.  chances are they're probably not that original.  just seek things out.

Alan – look.  when Mimi & I were young growing up on the farm we really had to try hard to find interesting music.  you really had to go out of your way to find a tape by the Sex Pistols or Siouxsie & the Banshees or Hüsker Du or the Replacements.  REM even was a rarity.  music is more rewarding when it's something you have to work to get & work to understand & usually those are the kinds of bands that are more satisfying.  there's a lot of really great new stuff coming out lately, but to begin with one would do injustice to all the others.  there's still really great music being made, but like I said, it's harder to find.  don't trust anything that's on the radio.  there is some that's great, but it's the same as it's always been.
Other QRD interviews with Alan Sparhawk:
Low (from Whirlpool 1995)
Low interview (September 2000)
Alan Sparhawk interview (July 2006)
Low Interview (October 2007)
Couples interview with Alan & Mimi of Low  (February 2007)
Father's Day Interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low (May 2007)
Guitarist Interview Series with Alan Sparhawk of Low & Retribution Gospel Choir (December 2010)
Christian Musician interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low (March 2011)
Alan Sparhawk of Low interview (June 2013)